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Clock is ticking on government’s relationship with Indigenous communities: Senator Tannas
OPINION
Clock is ticking on government’s relationship with Indigenous communities: Senator Tannas
June 26, 2018
image Scott Tannas
Scott Tannas
C - (Alberta)

Kayla Bernard grew up with no doctors in her community. Her school lacked qualified teachers.

Drinking water was a luxury.

The 22-year-old First Nations woman from Halifax told senators earlier this month what reconciliation means to her.

“Reconciliation is a word that is thrown around a lot in Canada, especially by Canadian leaders,” she said.

“But unfortunately it is a word that is used without action.”

Canada is at a key point in its path towards a true, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. But we need to act quickly or else we risk losing the opportunity to lay the groundwork for meaningful, concrete change.

On June 6, the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples invited nine young First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders to take part in Youth Indigenize the Senate Day.

People like Kayla told us about the challenges they face every day in their communities — lasting intergenerational trauma, poor access to education, and unrelenting racism.

We invited these youth because we wanted to listen to them and learn from them.

Their testimony forms a valuable part of our study on what a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples might look like, which we expect to complete next year.

Wearing a red dress in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Bryanna Brown, a 20-year-old Inuk woman, told committee members her own story of intergenerational trauma — something she’s often discussed with one of her close friends in her Newfoundland and Labrador community.

In an emotional speech, she revealed her friend was the brother of Loretta Saunders, the 26-year-old Inuk student from Labrador who was murdered by her roommates in 2014.

“Ironically, and unfortunately, Ms. Saunders was researching missing and murdered Indigenous women when she died. So that says a lot about our culture and our society,” Bryanna said.

The fear of going missing or being murdered still haunts her to this day. She told our committee that better education is key to understanding the reality of Indigenous peoples and what they are going through.

The challenge now is to move beyond slogans and to define real, concrete outcomes that will improve the situations of Indigenous communities.

With our study, our committee is propelling Canada toward that goal; the study is our contribution to building this new relationship.

There has been a renewed sense of optimism in Indigenous communities and in the broader Canadian community around the potential for a new relationship.

We’re trying to bring clarity to what nation-to-nation really means in terms of actual outcomes for real people and craft a set of principles that people of all backgrounds can agree on for generations to come.

Right now there is a willingness to pursue a new relationship. But if we don’t act soon, cynicism may entrench itself once more. We can’t let this happen. And we won’t. With people like Kayla and Bryanna showing such passion and poise, we can succeed.

Senator Scott Tannas is deputy chair of the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. He represents Alberta in the Senate.